I recently gave a talk on Video Gaming Addiction to a room of many grandfathers. I had never considered reaching out to this audience until I was approached and asked. And I’m so happy that I agreed to address them and share my family’s story.
We need as many support systems in place, as possible as we learn more about some of the negative consequences too much screen time can have on a child. And what better ally than that of a grandparent?
My talk was well received and I was asked several excellent questions afterwards. It was clear to me just how concerned these gentlemen were about their precious grandchildren. And they weren’t approaching it with a judgmental or negative attitude. They just wanted to know how they could help.
Seniors today are using cell phones, laptops and tablets in some form or another. They Skype with family members who live farther away, they text to their families and friends, they are making connections and staying in touch on social media, and some are even playing video games.
So, it’s clear that they are embracing change and technology. They understand that it’s here to stay. And this is a good thing because their children and grandchildren do not want to adapt to their past. They want to be connected and they want to be a part of the online community.
But managing technology and the internet in a balanced and meaningful way seems to be a challenge for some. We don’t want to stifle a child’s growth but we also want to steer them in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling that we don’t understand their world. Kids want to know that you think what they are doing is the next best thing. But, as adults we realize that not everything a child engages in is good for them. Video gaming is no different. For some kids, it’s great recreational fun and is easily regulated. For others, it can be an escape from emotional pain or stress and can lead to compulsive or addictive behavior.
So, first and foremost, it is important to understand your grandchild. Observe the ways in which they interact or, for some, continuously beg to play video games. Are they happy or are they anxious while playing? Do they stop playing with ease, upon your request, or do they resist or have a melt down at the thought of being pulled away from the game?
Secondly, be emotionally available to your grandchild. Create a bond of trust, so that they feel comfortable to share their feelings with you. Listen, without judgement.
Recent studies show that a whopping 40% of students say that they never talk to their parents about their problems. So, you can open up an opportunity for them to have an ally in which they can with you, what may be troubling them.
You may not be able to fix their emotional pain, and that’s okay. They just need to know that you understand, they need a sounding board. And they need to know that YOU are their soft place to land. This may help to prevent their need to go online and share, or to become too dependent on using games as an anxiety reliever or distraction.
During visits, create boundaries around gaming and screen time when they are in your home or you are on an outing together.
It’s your house, your time, your rules.
You don’t have to necessarily ban video gaming or screen time during your visits, but you can. It’s your choice. If you do find it difficult to disengage the child from the screen and/or they have meltdowns or tantrums during this transition, then it may be best to eliminate them completely.
But you can allow specific times for technology and times for none. If you are doing any other activity together, like baking, playing board or card games, playing with their toys, or playing outside, engaged in bedtime routines or eating meals, then these can be established as “no screen zones.”
The pediatric recommendations for daily screen time is as follows:
Children under 2 – absolutely no screen time. Infants and toddlers need to learn attachment to people, not devices during this critical stage of development.
2-4 Year olds – less than one hour
5-17 Year olds – no more than two hours of recreational screen time daily.
It is best to always have an activity to move to once screen time ends, otherwise its just too easy for the child to continue to play. A physical activity would be best.
And if you are allowing video gaming to be played in your home, play with your grandchild, or at least sit with them and show an interest in their game and perhaps the friends they are making online. Ask them questions about the game and about their character that they have created.
Don’t turn a blind eye and allow video gaming to become a secret activity your grandchild never shares with you. You can learn a lot about their world by being interested and active within it.
And most importantly, model your own tech time in front of your grandchildren. If you don’t want them to be on their screens for hours, then limit your own time scrolling on your phone, computer, or tablet.
Do speak with your grandchild about what the advancements in technology have done to change your life, in a positive way. This is their world and they are excited to share it with you. They want to know that it has meaning to you, as well. Tell them how using texting, facebook, or Skype has grown your personal connections and made communication faster and easier. But also, discuss how much you enjoy time away from technology devices and how much your relationships mean to you when you gather together, in person with friends and family. Tell them why this is important for you. They need to understand that life is about finding balance.
If you see signs that your grandchild’s screen time has become problematic and you are concerned about their well-being, speak to their parent, your adult child, with compassion, not judgement. Ask if they have noticed any changes as well. And ask if there’s anything that you can do to help.
But don’t be offended if they are in denial and are not ready to address the issue. Know that you have at least planted the seed. And know that you can at least create healthy balance during your interactions with the child.
The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is a special one, and it has taken a different shape in the last decade. Technology has helped to shift the ways in which we communicate. But there is still nothing better than time shared together in person.